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Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Each year the holidays come and between the stress and parties it is no wonder we all end up feeling lousy and unhealthy. Statistically Americans will gain an average of 3-5 lbs from Thanksgiving to New Years and 1 of those lbs will stay with us forever. Over a period of 10 years we will have gained 10 lbs just from Holiday indulgence. However it isn’t just the weight gain, it is also the time of year, due primarily to stress and lack of sleep, we inevitably end up getting sick. Believe it or not with a few simple changes you can keep yourself fit and trim and feeling energetic and healthy.

Boosting our Immune Systems:

Between all the decorating, shopping and partying we tend not to focus on taking proper care of our bodies. Feeding our bodies the right foods will help our immune system protect us from all the bacteria and viruses we are exposed to at crowded gatherings, which are unavoidable this time of year. The most critical of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals are Vitamins A, C and E and Selenium.

Foods Rich in Anti Oxidants:

All Fruits and Vegetables , Nuts, Omega 3 Eggs and Cold Water Fish

*Winter Squashes, Leafy Green and Orange vegetables are especially high in Vitamin A

*Citrus Fruits, Berries and Cruciferous vegetables are especially high in Vitamin C

*Wheat Germ, Almonds, Sunflower seeds and Tomatoes are high in Vitamin E

* Brazil Nuts, Dried Apricots, Eggs and some Whole grains are high in Selenium

*Cold water fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which attacks inflammation

Simple ways to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet:

1-Homemade snack mixes; put together some nuts and dried fruits and keep with you at all times so when you do feel hungry you have a healthy choice on hand

2-Soups are a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your body without even noticing

3-Keep raw vegetables cut up and on hand and snack on them throughout the day

Confidently battle Over-Indulgence :

When it comes to over eating during the holidays I have discovered 3 major causes

1)Food Gifts

2)Holiday Parties and Gatherings

3)Rushed for time; we grab whatever is easy

The solutions are almost as simple as the problems are themselves.

1) When it comes to food gifts the cardinal rule if it is not homemade, re-gift the item or throw it away. At least homemade gifts tend to be made from whole foods so they aren’t loaded with preservatives and chemicals.

2) As tempting as it may be to fast all day to make up for gorging at that evening’s party there is truly no bigger mistake. Instead be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before heading out. Think Hummus and Carrots or whole wheat pita or even an egg and whole grain toast. Don’t skip meals it shuts down your metabolism and if you go to a party famished don’t be surprised if you pig out.

3) We may not always have time to sit down and have a proper meal but having whole fruits, clementines and apples are a great choice this time of year because they are easily portable and full of vitamins, nuts are another must to have on hand.

Another key to surviving holiday overindulgence is to come up with some good alternatives to family favorites. I find this critical when it comes to Thanksgiving. If you have ever cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast yourself then you are aware of how much butter is used, for those of you who don’t cook but instead just eat, how does roughly 4lbs. of butter per 8 guests sound to you! There are some simple ways to change family recipes to make them healthier and there is nothing wrong with trying some new healthier recipes that are just as delicious.

One of the best ways to control Thanksgiving indulgence is starting the meal with a delicious velvety soup which can help fill you with fiber rich goodness but can also be the main course for the vegetarian or vegan guests at your holiday table. The soup is a classic squash bisque that uses sweet potato instead of cream to give it the beautiful texture and uses the same spices as our beloved pumpkin pie.

SQUASH AND APPLE BISQUE

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces

2 lbs apples, roughly chopped

1lb sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated

1tsp cinnamon

½ tsp clove

½ tsp nutmeg

1 quart+ vegetable stock or water

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté for 5 mins or until onions are clear, add cinnamon
  2. Add apples, squash and the sweet potatoes and saute
  3. Add 1 quart + of broth and simmer until potatoes are very soft
  4. Let cool a bit and using a blender or food processor blend until smooth adding a bit more stock or water to get the tight consistency
  5. top with toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts for a bit of crunch and extra flair

Traditional Mashed Potatoes, instead try substituting chicken stock for the butter and milk and to give it some creaminess toss in a handful of parmesan cheese. Also substitute cauliflower for half the potatoes to up the fiber and lower the calories and starch. Be sure to use lots of fresh herbs like rosemary, garlic and parsley to give them great flavor without all the extra saturated fat.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: Instead opt for some roasted winter squashes which have lots more fiber and a much lower glycemic load and sweeten with a touch of blue agave or maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

Stuffing: again try using some chicken broth to reduce the amount of butter and if you are sautéing onions and other veggies to add to your stuffing use olive oil instead of butter, keep in mind oyster stuffing is a better option than sausage because those oysters are rich in heart healthy minerals which may counteract some of the other foods we eat that day! Even better add lots of veggies to your dressing and always cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not stuffed in the bird to avoid food borne illness

Opt for a free-range turkey, when animals eat their natural diet, rather than a grain fed diet, their meet has the correct balance of essential fatty acids and is thus much healthier for us to eat, these are available for order at Friends

Make your own cranberry sauce and try using a little stevia or blue agave syrup to sweeten it rather than sugar. Also add some cinnamon which helps regulate insulin production

Green Bean Casserole: I think it is high time you encourage your family to give this one up if it still has a place on your holiday table, instead try blanching some fresh or frozen green Beans and then toss with some olive oil, lemon zest and some sliced almonds for a much healthier dish.

ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

1lb brussel sprouts

2 onions peeled and thinly sliced

olive oil for cooking

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. in a bit of oil over low heat saute the onions stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized

  2. trim brussel sprouts and cut an x in the bottom

  3. blanch brussel sprouts lightly and rinse in cool water

  4. toss brussel sprouts together with onions and a tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper

  5. place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and serve

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish try bringing a salad for a change. You’ll be amazed at how well it goes over and for a festive touch toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Pies: Here is the thing, as a food purist I have to say why mess with a good thing. Instead be sure to control your portion size and opt out of the ice cream. If you really love pumpkin pie and can’t imagine a small piece, skip the crust which has many more fat and calories than the filling. Also if you are making the pies opt for whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular bleached all-purpose flour, it is a change no one will notice but will add a bit of fiber to those pies.

During the Holiday season it is important to come up with some healthy snacks to have on hand to prevent you from over indulging on the many unhealthy foods you might find yourself surrounded by. It is far to easy to be tempted by the dishes of candies or cookies all over the place so the key to finding success is to make sure you don’t get too hungry. Hummus or bean dips are great this time of year because they are the perfect combination of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer. Eat with fresh vegetables or make into a wrap tih some lettuce and sprouts for a hearty and healthy on the go snack.

CURRIED SWEET POTATO HUMMUS
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft
1 can rinsed white beans
1 can rinsed garbanzo beans
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil and salted water** to get desired consistency

Peel Sweet Potato and place in a food processor with the next 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the oil and salted water alternating small bits of EACH to get desired consistency.
Making a salted water solution of 1/2 tsp Sea Salt per 1/4 cup water is the key to a perfect Hummus consistency without adding all the fat from oils.

If you have a sweet tooth the holidays can be a treacherous time of year. There are treats everywhere and were as the recipe above is designed to help keep you from getting hungry, this next recipe is a healthy treat that seems utterly decadent. Always use dark chocolate because once you introduce dairy to chocolate the ant-oxidant properties are wiped out.

HOLIDAY FRUIT AND NUT BARK

½ pound good quality dark chocolate, aim for at least 60% cacao

¾ cup chopped dried fruits (use what you like apricots, cherries, raisins or a combo)

½ cup walnuts

½ cup oats

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

  1. on a rimmed cookie sheet spread out the oats and walnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves

  2. toast in a 325 degree oven for 8-10 mins or until lightly brown

  3. in a microwave or double boiler melt chocolate

  4. stir in nut and oat mix and chopped fruit

  5. line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the chocolate mixture into a thin even sheet about ¼ inch thick

  6. chill in regriferator until firm, break into bite size pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks

Above all else, be smart about portions, if you eat until you feel sick, blame no one but yourself. By all means taste everything but most times a simple taste will do, and do try to load up with the veggies and turkey and go light on the stuffing and potatoes, never forget that the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, and by the way after this feast most families survived on very little in the ensuing winter months.

 

The Grocery Store Challenge

Grocery store aisle.

About 10 years ago just, after I finished my coursework in nutrition, I started giving classes on How to Navigate the Grocery store. Soon after you could find loads of articles on-line and in magazines on how to tackle the massive grocery stores and find only the best quality whole foods, ideal for your health. The rules were simple, shop the perimeter, that is where you will find produce, seafood and meat and dairy (though if you have read any Optimal Kitchen blogs before you know I am a bit anti-dairy). Once you have stocked up on those whole foods do a quick check of the organic section for any dry goods you may need and your ready for the check out.
We should have known that once us nutritionists starting talking about the hidden dangers lurking within those aisles, that the supermarket companies would devise some kind of plan to get us back in there. Alas one of my local grocery stores has fallen victim to this type of deceptive marketing and this past month has completely rearranged the store and removed my beloved organic/health food section. Of course I was the obnoxious customer who asked why in god’s name they thought this new layout was beneficial to anyone. Keep in mind I had just spent 20 minutes looking for my organic tamari which I buy regularly. I was told they decided to co-mingle the organics with their conventional counterparts so that shoppers could do price comparisons and be more informed shoppers. Sounds good, right. Well, if that was the case why wasn’t the tamari in the Asian section next to all the other soy sauce products? If you can believe I found it next to the barbecue sauce, the only explanation I could muster was that they thought tamari was akin to terriyaki sauce and belonged with the marinades and bbq sauces!
All I can conclude from this absurd re-organization is that customers where getting too smart, and those looking to improve their health through the foods they eat were avoiding those center aisles, chock full of all sorts of unhealthy goods. But why would the store want customers to load up on those unhealthy processed foods, what difference does it make to them if you only buy produce and other whole food products? It is quite simple really, the mark-up on those processed goods is far greater than that of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs and even dairy. It is in the store’s best economic interest to get you in those middle aisles shopping so they will do all they can to drive you there. This is not meant to demonize grocery stores, which are a big part of any community’s economy, but it is meant to inform you that you these practices exist and why they do. Ideally we would all be getting the majority of our food from local farmer’s markets or co-ops but that is simply not realistic. Instead I urge you to try and shop at smaller, locally owned grocery stores that don’t decide to re-arrange the store every year simply to keep customers wandering the aisles, eyes glazed over simply throwing things into their cart because they are unable to find the goods they really want and need.
Where we choose to spend our money will have a great impact on how stores operate. If you decide to no longer frequent those mega grocery chains, even though it might save you some money and instead shop at your local farmer’s market and specialty stores, we might just change how these stores operate. Knowing who and where your food comes from is definitely worth the extra cost. And remember when you support local stores you support your community not some corporation.

 

 

A Dose of Reality Nutrition

Perhaps it is because I just returned from vacation, where I had  some free time to read up on recent Nutrition news, that I am sitting here cringing from much of the information out there on the web.  What strikes me as fundamentally screwy is that almost every nutrition blog I read connects to some e-commerce site where they try and sell you some magical potion or powder to improve whatever ailment you may be suffering from.  I am not here to sell you anything, but I am here to tell you that good nutrition is key to lifelong health and wellness. 

What we eat profoundly affects our bodies, and no amount of exercise can make up for a poor dietconsisting of sugar and fat laden processed foods.  In fact 80% of weight loss comes from dietary changes, not exercise, so as much as I support being active everyday, what we eat is far more critical to our bodies ability to function optimally.

First I want to address the issue of supplements which is what I see pandered most on the internet.  I am going to be bold enough to go out there and say “how is it humankind managed to survive hundreds of thousand of years without supplements, which have only been popular for the last half century.”  The answer is easy, we ate a variety of whole foods, primarily plants, vegetables, grains and fruits, with a bit of meat, eggs, and either some butter or lard to make it all taste good.  We have had access to some sweet foods for a few hundred years, but history books make it quite clear that these were luxuries that only a few could afford and only occasionally.  Can you imagine?  We managed to get the nutrients we needed to not only to survive but to thrive as a species from the simple foods we ate.  Ok, I will concede that herbs and spices have always been a vital part of health and nutrition and even though Tumeric may be sold in capsule form today, I do not consider any culinary or medicinal herbs that grow on this planet to be supplements.

My issue with supplements is simply the fact that manufactured forms of vitamins and minerals are never as readily absorbed and used by our bodies as when they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur. Here is an example, for many years consumers bought and used Calcium Carbonate as a supplement to prevent bone loss which could lead to osteoporosis.  However after decades on the market, we  realized that without the presence of Vitamin C the body did not absorb the calcium so the money spent on all those calcium carbonate supplements quite literally was flushed down the toilet.  Now companies pander Calcium Citrate which contains Vitamin C to aid absorption, but keep in mind every food that is rich in Calcium, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and many types of seafood have copious amounts of vitamin C present already.  Mother nature makes sure to create foods that match our bodies actual needs.  This same rule applies to Iron, so when you wonder why if you are prescribed an iron supplement and your doctor tells you to take it with orange juice, this is the reason.  But again if you ate copious amounts of greens and some red beans you probably would not need an iron supplement.

Another example is the explosion of probiotics on the market.  Did you know that most probiotics are found in healthy soil?  Our current system of farming which depletes the soil of these organisms is the reason so many of us lack the proper intestinal flora living in our gut.  Refrigeration has also eliminated the need for fermenting foods which was the other way humans have insured they had enough probiotics in their system for centuries.  Purchasing organic or even better biodynamic produce from your local farmer is a great way to get a wide variety of probiotics into your system.

It is always best to get the nutrients you need from the abundance of healthy foods available to us, they are designed especially for human consumption with nutrients that simply are not understood.  I encourage clients to shift some of the money they spend on these pricey supplements and instead improve the quality of the foods they purchase and eat.  However there are those suffering from illness and malnutrition that may need an extra boost of particular Vitamins and Minerals and for those  people supplements may be the best way to go, in addition to improving their overall diet to include massive amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. But these people are more unique than mainstream.

Our addiction to these expensive and untested supplements proves an unwillingness to make the difficult changes to our diet to ensure our good health.  So many of us would rather eat a burger or pizza and take a handful of pills than eat a nutrient rich vegetable stew or a bowl of fruit salad.  History proves to us that feeding ourselves has always been challenging and it consumes a significant amount of our energy and resources.  How we face and address those challenges today is very different from our past and the state of disease in this country should be a warning bell that we may not be making the best decisions for our bodies.

As always remember GOOD HEALTH STARTS WITH GOOD FOOD

 

 

The Challenge of Healthy Eating

Perhaps it is due to my chosen field,  but everyday my Facebook feed is bombarded with images and stories about how  this food can promise weight loss or increased libido or whatever health issue they are focusing on to sell their product.  Remember in the end they are almost always trying to sell you a product.  First off let me tell you, I am not trying to sell you anything and secondly most of these promises are simply bogus.

Bizarrely enough the world of nutrition is a fairly new science, pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we have been eating, well FOREVER! But here is the thing , how we as a nation feed ourselves has dramatically changed over the past 75 years or so.  All I can speak to is the past 45 years since that is my lifespan but, wow have I seen some huge shifts.

Let’s think about how we shop. I am a city girl so large supermarkets were never where my family shopped, but even those stores in the 1970’s and 80’s were a fraction of the size they are today offering a lot fewer choices to the consumer.  So we shopped at the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker and the green grocer for most of our food.  Sure we went to the grocer for household products, orange juice and pet food but not much else.  Things are much different today in the world of giant super stores.

If you find yourself shopping in these stores, going up and down each aisle filling your cart, that is the first mistake you are making with your health.  If you purchase anything in a bag or a box, you are putting your health at risk on some level, and the environment but that is another issue for a different day.  Now I am a realist and I know there are many of you out there that can’t fathom filling your cart with nothing but whole, fresh foods that actually have to be washed, prepped and cooked, but for centuries, this is how humans ate so it should not surprise any of us that they way we are eating today is not just unhealthy, but truly unsustainable.

On an evolutionary level, and let us remember that 75 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale, our bodies simply cannot adjust quickly enough to all the dietary changes we have seen and our ballooning weight and rise in obesity as a nation is simply one example of that.  What is worse is that we keep creating products that we think will solve these issues only to find out given time that we made a colossal error.  A great example of this is margarine.  I remember margarine rising in fame in the 1980’s as a way to combat that demonic butter that leads to high cholesterol.  Boy were we wrong there! Studies now show how margarine is in fact one of the WORST things you can eat and butter and even lard are coming back in favor.  Well let’s just say humans have been eating lard every since we began eating meat, 100,000’s of years ago ,and we have been eating butter for around 10,000 years, so we can prove that on an evolutionary scale we are designed to eat and even thrive eating these foods.

Here is the thing though, feeding ourselves shouldn’t be this hard.  Life is stressful enough with out adding the challenge of feeding ourselves and our families healthy foods.  So the best advice I can give for anyone out there who wants to improve their health through the foods you eat remember this; there are no magic potions or super foods that on their own will dramatically change the shape of your body or your overall health.  Eating well takes some effort and if you simply hate to cook you better find a prepared food store that makes healthy foods from scratch, because shopping in the freezer section of your grocery store or relying on take-out doesn’t cut it.  Eating well is a challenge, but dealing with a chronic illness due to poor diet is a lot harder to deal with, so why not take a pro active stance now and try to improve your everyday diet.

I will make it easy for you since actionable steps are the best way to attain success.  Here is a goal for your next shopping trip; TRY TO CUT BACK ON YOUR PROCESSED FOOD PURCHASES BY HALF,  AND — USE THE MONEY YOU SAVE TO BUY FRESH PRODUCE.  This one step is a great start and check back in a couple of days to see what new suggestions the Optimal Kitchen has in store for you.

What’s New at The Optimal KItchen

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Thai Noodle Salad 

Each week The Optimal Kitchen offers a variety of selections to customers most of which are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even vegan paleo options.  After years of educating and empowering the residents of Cape Cod to make healthy food part of their everyday lifestyle, I realized for many, they did not have the time or desire to prepare healthy foods for themselves.  In response to this community need and after years of searching for a commercial kitchen space, The Optimal Kitchen has been able to move to the next level.

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Morrocan Farro Salad

Not only are the foods offered at The Optimal Kitchen designed to help you achieve your individual health goals, they are an economical solution for the single person or even couples to incorporate healthy foods into their everyday diet.  Many of the dishes offered by the Optimal Kitchen use exotic and expensive ingredients, but by cooking in bulk and portioning it out for the individual we are able to offer these incredibly healthy and delicious foods at affordable prices.  Another bonus is an attempt to reduce food waste.  More than 2 decades as a professional Chef has taught us how to make the most of our ingredients and re-purpose them so there is little to no waste.  An example is that all vegetable stocks are house made from the peels and scraps of vegetables that went into your salads and soups.  So for those of you out there struggling after years of preparing foods for a family to pare down to cooking for just one or two people, The Optimal Kitchen healthy prepared foods are perfect for you!

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Weekly Menu Board

When possible locally sourced and organic ingredients are used, but focus is always placed on affordability.  Therefore, I will never claim to be completely organic, but I will claim to always be healthy.  So come on by the Orleans Farmer’s Market and pick yourself up some of these delicious, healthy and affordable foods and you may just realize you won’t have to cook anymore!

TOK Tackles Food Waste

Food waste is a huge problem, so much more than you can imagine.  You might look at your own  trash and think ,”oh that isn’t too bad.” Here is the problem, take your personal food waste and multiply it a thousand times and that is you local grocery store not to mention major growers and food producers who are the ones creating a constant waste stream of food that in this chef and nutritionist’s view is often made up of delicious and nutritious foods.  A handful of entrepreneurs have come on the scene and are finding creative ways of using food that would otherwise be bound for landfills and selling them to the public.

A recent trip to my local Stop and Shop last  Friday allowed me to score these 3 trays of raspberries for a $1.50.  Had a purchased the same raspberries the night before,  I would have spent around $50,but since the produce manager viewed them as less than perfect they were in the cart destined for what I hope was the compost heap,  but what was most likely the dumpster.  After emptying the containers on paper lined sheet pans and examining the berries I found only 3 that had a bit of spot mold and needed to be thrown away.  Ironically I have bought raspberries at full price that were a lesser quality than these.  Luckily I know that spreading berries out like this extends their life, and taking those same trays and placing them in the freezer allows me to IQF (individually quick freeze) these delicious berries so we can enjoy them in the weeks and months ahead.

The Optimal Kitchen is about empowering clients to learn how to tackle the challenges of feeding you and your family healthy whole foods in affordable ways and reducing your personal food waste is a critical part of this process.  Below are some simple ideas on how to ensure less of the food you grow or buy ends up in the compost or trash.

  1. Make your own STOCK: this is one of the best things you can do to reduce waste and save a ton of money.  Save all vegetable scraps, items like carrot peels, onion skins, tomato tops and the likes in a ziploc bag in your freezer.  Once the bag is full empty into a stock pot, cover with water and simmer for several hours and then strain.  You will have a delicious, sodium free vegetable stock to use immediately or to freeze and safe for the future.  Most vegetable scraps are perfect for stock but avoid cucumber skins (due to wax coating), and potato skins which make your stock a bit starcy.
  2. Make your own fruit Vinegar: When you have bruised peaches, berries, apples or the like don’t throw them away.  Take those fruits and place them in a glass jar and cover with some distilled white vinegar and some water and cover with cheesecloth.  Let it sit in a cool dark spot for a few weeks and then strain and place in a glass bottle and you will have a great flavored vinegar to make your own salad dressings.
  3. COMPOST:  this is not a food item you are creating but your food scraps do become a valuable soil amendment for your vegetable or flower gardens.  If you don’t want to deal with composting please take the time to find a friend or neighbor who does and consider collecting your vegetable scraps for them.

These are a few simple ideas that will save you a bit of green as well as help to keep our planet a bit greener.  Remember:  Every time you throw food in the trash you are throwing money away and if you are like me you work way to hard to throw valuable money into the trash!20151106_134612_resized